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Culture

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art Exhibition in Virginia

September 22, 2017

MIDDLESBURG, VA – The Horse in Ancient Greek Art exhibition opened on September 9 at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM), 102 The Plains Road in Middleburg, the heart of Virginia horse country, and runs through January 14, 2018. The exhibition focuses on the powerful symbol of the horse in ancient Greece and its depiction on vases, coins, and in sculpture and other media.

Conferring wealth and status, the horse was depicted by ancient artists in a variety of scenes including everyday activities and daily care, dramatic moments in combat and chariot races, as well as the more fanciful, equine incarnations from mythology such as the winged horse, Pegasus, and the half-man, half-horse hybrid centaurs and satyrs.

The exhibition which was organized by the NSLM and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) displays objects demonstrating the ancient equestrian life in all its glory, highlighting the many similarities to the care of horses and horsemanship today.

As noted on the VMFA website, “From myth and legend to warfare, sport, and transportation, the horse played an integral role in ancient Greek culture. Wealthy Greeks belonged to the social class of knights and hunted to develop skills for fighting in the cavalry. Horses were among the earliest subjects explored by Greek artists and remained the most commonly depicted animal in the Archaic and Classical Periods. Artists and writers celebrated horses as symbols of wealth, power, and prestige but also as cherished companions of humans, heroes, and gods.”

Greek vases, sculpture, and coins from the 8th through the 4th centuries BC are included in the exhibition bringing together artifacts and objects from private collections, the VMFA, the Tampa Museum of Art, and other museum collections. The exhibition and its companion book “explore the significance of the horse in ancient Greek culture, and imagery of the horse in ancient myth, war, sport, and competition. From some of the earliest examples of the horse in Greek art, to stunning examples of black and red-figure vases,” as noted in the VMFA’s online description.

While donkeys, mules, and oxen were the more common work animals on farms in ancient times, horses, expensive to maintain, were used in war and in sports. Owning a horse was a status symbol reserved for the elites of society. Depictions of the cavalry going into battle or exciting chariot races were also coveted and collected by horse enthusiasts much like today.

The VMFA will host the exhibition at its location, 200 N. Boulevard in Richmond, February 17-July 8, 2018. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is co-curated by Dr. Peter J. Schertz, VMFA Jack and Mary Frable Curator of Ancient Art, and Nicole Stibling, curator at the NSLM. Published by NSLM in partnership with VMFA and distributed by Yale University Press, the illustrated exhibition catalog, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art, was edited by Schertz and Stribling and includes essays by notable scholars of ancient Greek art and archaeology Sean Hemingway, Carol Mattusch, John Oakley, Seth D. Pevnick, and Schertz and as well as images of over 80 objects. The book is available for pre-order online and is due to be released on October 17.

More information is available online at www.nationalsporting.org and https://vmfa.museum.

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